Love Races But Not the Fees? Virtual Races Could Save You Hundreds

marathon athletes legs running on city road
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Running is an affordable sport, right? Well, yes… in theory. To run, all you need is a supportive pair of shoes and the open road. But in reality, running expenses can quickly add up (especially when you have a running shoe addiction like mine).

Race fees — and travel/accommodations for said races — can end up costing as much as a short vacation. And, while some runners like planning their vacations around their races, it’s not feasible to do that if you’re on a budget.

In 2016, I made a slightly crazy goal to run 12 half-marathons in 12 months. Not only did I crush my goal, but I also managed to do it without going bankrupt, thanks in part to virtual races.

What are Virtual Races?

As early as 1957, ‘national postals’ consisted of high-school athletes mailing their times into a national postal competition that selected and announced the winners. These days, anyone can sign up for a virtual race online for a variety of distances, from 5Ks and 10Ks to half and full marathons. You can sign up on websites like Virtual Strides, Gone for a Run and Will Run for Bling. After you finish a race, enter your time on the race organizer’s website to see where you rank.

Unlike regular races, you can run a virtual race whenever and wherever you choose. That means you can fit it into your life rather than the other way around. You can even run a virtual race on a treadmill if you want — it’s completely up to you.

Virtual races are sometimes tied to charities, meaning your money goes toward a good cause. So, if you need help getting out the door to run, registering for a virtual charity race can be a great motivator.

How Can Virtual Races Save You Money?

If you’ve ever run an organized race, you know that entry fees can be expensive — especially if you register for a larger race like the Chicago Marathon. In 2016, entry to this marathon cost $185 for residents and $210 for non-residents, according to

When I decided to run 12 half-marathons in 2016, I knew I couldn’t afford to spend upwards of $70 per race. By running local races and virtual races, I paid an average of $26.80 per race instead.

My Virtual Race Experiences

My first virtual race was a half-marathon through my local chapter of the women-only running group Moms Run This Town. I paid $16 and got a medal and a swag bag with coupons and samples for local goods.

The moms planned to run the race on a certain date in February, but that day ended up being extremely cold (I’m talking the weatherman warning that your toes might fall off if you dare to go outside). Since it was a virtual race, I stayed indoors that day and ran the race the following weekend with a friend. I not only saved my fingers and toes — I also saved money.

My second virtual race was through Virtual Strides and was called One Tough Mother Runner. For $28, I got a seriously unique medal that doubles as a wine stopper (a necessity for any mom at the end of a long day). I admit that I chose this race solely for the medal, and I ran the 13.1 miles by myself around my neighborhood.

This was a charity race which benefited the Family Lives On Foundation, an organization that supports grieving children. I felt good that my money was going to a good cause in addition to a kick-ass wine stopper medal.

Finally, I ran the She Power Half Marathon virtually through 131 Event Productions for $36. The original race is located in Indianapolis, and, in 2016, you had the choice of running it entirely on a paved trail, entirely on a dirt trail or half and half. I ran this race with a large group of friends in Glen Helen in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and it was honestly one of the most fun and memorable races I’ve run due to the people I ran it with.

Though they aren’t always as fun as live races, if you’re willing to forgo the water stops, course entertainment and cheering spectators of organized races, virtual races can easily help you meet your training goals for a fraction of the price.

Catherine Hiles is a four-time marathoner and 17-time half-marathoner. One of her proudest accomplishments is running a half-marathon with her 2-year-old daughter in a stroller.